读经：诗104:31-35 林后4:1-18 弥1:1-4:13
Do Not Lose Heart
Do you ever get discouraged? Do you sometimes feel ‘Is this all worthwhile? Are we actually getting anywhere?’ Are you ever tempted to ‘lose heart’? If you are, you are not alone. Paul was almost certainly tempted himself to lose heart, and he wrote to other Christians who were also tempted to do so.
Yet Paul wrote, ‘We do not lose heart’ (2 Corinthians 4:1,16). ‘We do not throw up our hands and walk off the job’ (v.1, MSG). Why not? Paul explains that it is because in Jesus we have received a ‘treasure’ (v.7). The treasure is the message of Jesus. It is because the message that Paul has to proclaim is so amazing that he starts and ends by saying, ‘Therefore… we do not lose heart’ (vv.1,16).
Yet the treasure is inward and unseen. Paul describes it as being in ‘jars of clay’ (v.7). Our culture emphasises the outward and the seen. The media is dominated by money, possessions, houses, cars, food, physical beauty and outward success. The Bible is very different. It stresses the importance of the inward and unseen aspects of our character: the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that determine our outward behaviour.
1. Inward and unseen thoughts
Psalm 104:31-35If you know how to worry, you know how to meditate! All you need to do is change what you think about and you will be practicing Christian meditation.
‘Meditation’ (v.34) means what we think about, what we allow our mind to dwell on. Our actions and our words are vital. But it is not just our actions and words that can please the Lord or not; it is our inward and unseen meditation as well.
The psalmist praises God for the entire created universe. He says, ‘I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live’ (v.33). Then, he prays, ‘May my meditation be pleasing to him’ (v.34).
What does this mean practically? Philippians 4:8 has some good advice: ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’
Lord, help me to win the battle of the mind. May my meditation be pleasing to you as I rejoice in the Lord.
2. Inward and unseen treasure
2 Corinthians 4:1-18We have the most powerful message in the world. Faith in Jesus is utterly transformational, both now and into eternity. ‘We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence’ (v.14).
We are all ‘jars of clay’ (v.7). Inside is the ‘treasure’ (v.7), which is inward and ‘unseen’ (v.18). The treasure is the message of Jesus. It is given to them by the mercy of God (v.1).
This life is not the end, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal: ‘The things we can’t see now will last forever’ (v.18, MSG).
Secularisation has led to the world – and now even the church – forgetting about ‘eternity’. We focus on, and value, the things we can see and handle. ‘Eternity’ is a vital part of the message.
In proclaiming the message about Jesus there are four things to which we must say ‘No’.
- No secrecy
‘We have renounced secret… ways’ (v.2). ‘We refuse to wear masks’ (v.2a, MSG). There needs to be openness in everything we do: ‘We keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display’ (v.2b, MSG).
- No shame
‘We have renounced… shameful ways’ (v.2). We should not do anything that, if discovered, we might be ashamed about.
- No deception
‘We do not use deception’ (v.2). ‘We don’t manoeuvre and manipulate behind the scenes’ (v.2, MSG).
- No distortion
‘Nor do we distort the word of God’ (v.2). ‘We don’t twist God’s word to suit ourselves’ (v.2, MSG). We must not change the message to make it more acceptable. On the contrary, Paul writes that he sets forth the truth ‘plainly’ (v.2).
Because the gospel is unseen and inward, not everyone sees it. ‘It is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’ (vv.3–4). I was like that. I heard the message, but I simply could not make head or tail of it.
It is only when God shines his light into our hearts that we can see ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (v.6).
The message is all about Jesus: ‘Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get’ (v.4, MSG). ‘Remember, our message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master’ (v.5, MSG).
We, the servants of Jesus, are jars of clay containing the world’s greatest treasure. Paul does not want people looking at the jars. He wants them to look at the treasure. God has deliberately put the treasure in jars of clay: ‘We carry this precious message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us’ (v.7, MSG).
Although the jars are wasting away, ‘on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace’ (v.16, MSG). We are ‘hard pressed’ by financial and other pressures, and perplexed by things that happen to us. We are criticised and ‘persecuted’ and at times ‘struck down’ (vv.8–9).
But ‘our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all’ (vv.16–17). ‘These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us’ (v.17, MSG).
‘So,’ Paul writes, ‘we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (v.18). As Father Raniero Cantalamessa writes, ‘A new standard of measurement has been introduced that makes crosses and trials seem light and momentary: Eternity.’
Lord, thank you that you have given us this amazing treasure in Jesus. Help me to fix my eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen.
3. Inward and unseen power
Micah 1:1-4:13You can be greatly used by God. We are all jars of clay – ordinary, common, everyday people. Yet, you can be used mightily by God. Have a big vision for your life because you are full of the power of the Spirit of the Lord.
What the prophet Micah says can be true for us all, ‘As for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might’ (3:8a). His power comes from the inward and unseen work of the Holy Spirit in his life.
Micah speaks out against injustice with great power. He championed the cause of the underprivileged. As in the case of Jonah, Micah’s warnings were heeded and disaster was avoided (see Jeremiah 26:18 and following).
Micah speaks out against injustice and greed. Like most sin, it starts with inward and unseen plans: ‘Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds!’ (Micah 2:1a).
They sow thoughts and reap actions. ‘They covet fields and grab them, find homes and take them. They bully the neighbour and his family, see people only for what they can get out of them’ (vv.1b–2). (This is an extraordinarily accurate description of what we would now describe as ‘land grabbing’.)
Micah’s words are particularly aimed at the ‘leaders’ (3:1a). ‘Should you not know justice, you who hate good and love evil’ (vv.1b–2a). He accuses them of treating the people like animals (vv.2–3). He warns them that if they treat the poor unjustly, God will not hear their prayers (v.4).
Money seems to have been at the root of the injustice. As so often, it is greed that leads to injustice:
‘Judges sell verdicts to the highest bidder,
priests mass-market their teaching,
prophets preach for high fees,
All the while posturing and pretending
dependence on God’ (v.11, MSG).
One day God will put things right. God ‘will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes’ (v.3). There will be peace. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more’ (v.3b). There will also be justice. There will be a fair dispersal of land: ‘Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig-tree’ (v.4a).
Ultimately what matters is the inward and unseen thoughts of God, ‘But they do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand his plan’ (v.12).
Lord, thank you that one day you will right all wrongs and bring everlasting peace. In the meantime, may I be like Micah ‘filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might’ (3:8).
2 Corinthians 4:7
‘We have this treasure in jars of clay.’
I’m very conscious of being a ‘jar of clay’. And my particular jar is getting rather old, chipped and cracked!
I may be flawed, but God’s ‘all-surpassing power’ still lives in me.